Sunday, September 23, 2007

Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUV

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Something I would like to share with all of you this week is that I am on the Women’s Tennis Team at the University of Arizona. I am a senior on the team and we are in our fall season. This weekend, I traveled from Tucson, Ariz., to El Paso, Texas, to compete in a tennis tournament.

The trip was 4 ½ hours long. The driver, Vicky Maes, head coach of the tennis team, happened to drive a hybrid SUV. I thought to myself, “How perfect!” and I was able to score an interview with her this weekend during our drive to Texas.

My long trip to Texas allowed me to examine my coach’s 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUV to the fullest detail. My experience in the car was great. I took naps, ate, stretched-out, sat in the front and backseats, listened to music, played around with the A/C, and opened-up different compartments.

I am one of those people who can take naps wherever I am, whether I am on a plane, train, or automobile. I have to say that the Highlander was very comfortable. The first two hours of our trip, I slept in the backseat. The car drove very smoothly and swiftly. I barely felt the bumps on the road.

The car was also very quiet. When my coach started the vehicle you could here it start, but then it went so silent that I thought it was off again. When the car drove in reverse I couldn’t hear it at all. It was almost as if the car was falling back in an off/neutral position.

I also noticed that the car was very spacious. It is just like a regular SUV. The backseats are a little tighter than a regular SUV, but I am only 5’2” so I didn’t bother me much. The trunk is huge. We were able to fit three backpacks, three suitcases, two tennis bags, three shopping bags, and three purses in the back.

There were also a lot of cup holders everywhere. There are cup holders in the front and backseats of the car. It was very convenient.

What I liked best about the car was the sound system. There is no difference between a hybrid and a regular car when it comes to quality and sound of music.

We only stopped twice to get gas our entire trip. Our coach filled it up before we left, once during our trip to Texas, and once more on our way back to Arizona. I was impressed.

Here is what my coach had to say when I interviewed her:

Q: Is this the first hybrid car you have owned.

Maes: Yes, this is the first one.

Q: What was your last car?
Maes: A Toyota Forerunner.

Q: How does your last car compare to the Highlander?

Maes: The Forerunner was a V8, this is a V6. I feel a little bit less safe in this car because it is more swift. Sometimes I feel like it can tip over on sharper turns. The gas mileage is better though and the gas emission is a lot lower. It’s also quieter. It is less bumpy and it feels a lot lighter than my Forerunner.

Q: Do you think you would ever switch back to a regular car?

Maes: I’ll try not to but it all depends. I prefer a hybrid, but some cars just don’t come in a hybrid. I like to do my part for the environment. With the great amount of driving I do, I’d like to help the environment.

Q: Do you have friends that drive hybrids?

Maes: Yes, I know a lot of people. It’s funny but I also get a lot of questions from people. I get stopped a lot at the gas station or anywhere where I have to stop. A lot of people seem to be interested in switching over [to a hybrid car].

Q: Is it good for taking trips up to the mountains and camping?

Maes: It is really good for going up to the mountains. Although it is a V6 it is really fast. It is the same performance wise to the Forerunner. It just doesn’t feel as stable.

Q: How do you fuel the car?

Maes: I fuel it exactly the same way as you would a regular car. The gas tank is smaller but fueling is the same.

Q: How much mileage does the Highlander get?

Maes: Mileage is 32 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway, but I don’t get that much. I never get more than 25 in the city.

Q: How much is the hybrid Highlander?

Maes: They tend to be more in price then the regular cars. This one is about $35,000 to $40,000.

After my interview I went online to see how my coach’s Toyota Highlander Hybrid compared to the Toyota Prius.

The coast of the Toyota Prius is $20,000 to $25,000. It is supposed to get 48 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway. However, from reviews I have read that those numbers tend to drop down from 35 to 40 mpg. The Prius is a lot smaller. For people who are looking to purchase an eco-friendly SUV, I would recommend the Toyota Highlander Hybrid because of a great personal experience.

In the end, my trip was great. My teammate and I got 3rd place in doubles. I went on to win the consolation draw in singles and my teammate ended up getting 4th place.

Here are a few websites you can check out:


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Alternative Energy Expo

Yesterday I went to the Alternative Energy Expo at the Tucson Convention Center. The exhibition was open on Friday, Sept. 14, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 15, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Hundreds of people interested in eco-friendly living came to the exhibition. There were approximately 60 exhibitors/vendors at the expo.

My main interest and focus at the expo was automobiles and alternative fuel emission. I learned that there are three types of alternative fuel emissions:
1) biodiesel, 2) Ethanol (E85) and 3) compressed natural gas (CNG).

Something interesting that I never knew about biodiesel is that it is made from soybeans and it is mixed with traditional diesel. Biodiesel can be run on any diesel vehicle. There was an old Mercedes diesel on display at the expo which ran on biodiesel fuel.

According to the brochure for the Alternative Energy Expo, "Biodiesel is the name of a clean burning alternative fuel, produced from domestic, renewable resources. Biodiesel contains no petroleum, but it can be blended at any level with petroleum to create a biodiesel blend. It can be used in compression-ignition (diesel) engines with little or no modifications. Bioiesel is made through a chemical process called transesterification whereby the glycerin is separated from the fat or vegetable oil... Biodiesel can (also) be made from recycled grease."

Ethanol (E85) is corn derivative. "There are over 75,000 vehicles, called flex-fuel vehicles, registered in the state of Arizona as of 2004 that could run on E85," according to the Alternative Energy Expo brochure. Putting E85 is just like filling your car up at a gas station. You just simply fill it up at a local retail station.

Compressed natural gas (CNG) is not as available in Tucson as E85. However, it is the future. "There is a device called FuelMaker that can be installed at ones home or business that allows you to fuel at home, overnight by hooking into your gas line at home," according to the Alternative Energy Expo brochure.

I spoke to Chad Lindham, regional manager for Clean Energy. Clean Energy is the largest provider of vehicular natural gas in North America with a broad customer base in the refuse, transit, shuttle, taxi, police, interstate and interstate trucking, airport and municipal fleet markets. It's a $120 million dollar per year company. It operates throughout Arizona. Arizona is a huge user of natural gas.

"We fuel 500 buses in Maricopa, 80 buses run by SunTran and 50 school buses in Tucson," said Lindham.

One of the good things about natural gas is that there is no smoke that comes out from the buses.

"Cleaner, cheeper, and domestic. That's our motto," said Lindham.

The goal of Clean Energy is to try to get every trash truck to switch over to CNG, because trash trucks are huge pollutants.

An interesting fact I found out at the expo is that Arizona is the most aggressive state in the United States for alternative fuels. I found this fact to be interesting because you would expect a state like California to be more aggressive, especially with the population increase and the vast pollution in Los Angeles.

The expo was very interesting and it makes me want to go out and buy an alternative fuel vehicle.

Please check out my slideshow!!! There were a lot of amazing cars I saw at the expo.

Also, here are some websites if you are interested...

Alternative Energy Expo site:

BioDiesel Info:

Natural Gas Info:

E85 Info:

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Test Drive

2007 Toyota Prius Slideshow:

Photos Courtesy of eVox Productions

Hello blog readers! This past weekend I decided to test-drive a 2007 Toyota Prius, a gasoline hybrid, just to get the feeling of what a hybrid car is like compared to a regular car.

The 2007 Toyota Prius is similar to the 2004 Prius except for some additional standard safety equipment.

The EPA fuel economy is 60 miles per gallon in the city and 51 on the highway. Available engine is a 76-horse power, 1.5 liter I-4. Available transmission is a 2-speed CVT w/OD.

Before the test drive, I went online to find some of the plus and minuses about the vehicle. I went to a
website that laid out a few points.

Some of the new and notable functions are:
*Electric-dominant hybrid powertrain
*Hatchback body style
*Enhanced regenerative breaking
*Available Touring Edition

The positives about the car are:
*Superior fuel economy
*Performance, considering its frugality
*Interior and cargo space

The negatives about the car are:
*Rear visibility
*Rear headroom
*Control operation

Taking these points into consideration, I went to test-drive the 2007 Prius at Precision Toyota at 700 W. Wetmore Rd. in Tucson, Ariz.

The first thing I noticed when I got into the car was how much room there was. You would expect a hybrid car to be tiny in order to be fuel efficient; but in fact, it was very spacious. The seats were also very comfortable. However, I am only 5’2” and I couldn’t adjust the seat for my height… That’s an important feature I think Toyota needs to add to the Prius.

The backseats were very spacious as well. They were comfortable, but I wouldn’t say they match up to the comfort of German cars, such as the Audi or Mercedes.

I also would have to agree with the review that there is little headroom in the backseats. Because I am not so tall I was able to fit perfectly, but for someone who is taller then I am they might have trouble squeezing into the backseat. The cargo volume totals 16.1 cubic feet and 5 people should be able to fit in the car.

The placement of the gauges on the dashboard is pretty neat. I had to operate the climate controls on an LCD screen located at the top center of all the controls. The car comes with an AM/FM radio/CD six-speaker sound system. The quality of the sound was definitely good. I am a base lover and the speakers could produce a lot of base sound so I liked that.

The car started different then a regular car. I had to press a power button in front of me. Then, as I started driving it, I could never really hear the car. When I went into reverse I heard some beeping sounds which told me I was going in reverse. The Prius was very quiet and calm inside.

As I started driving the car, I would say I have to agree with the negative review about the car’s rear visibility. I couldn’t see behind me very well. Also, because my seats had no height-adjustability, that only added to the problem.

I also noticed that when I would hit the brakes on the car it would jerk slightly. According to the website above, the Prius has anti-lock brakes and traction control. Maybe the way it is designed it wants a person to have more feel when they are stopping. Not sure.

I decided to try to park the car. There is no park position on the gearshift lever. Instead, I had to press a button with a “P” on it to get to the park position. Then you just press the power button again to shut it off.

It was an interesting ride and experience since that was the first hybrid car I had ever test-driven.

The Toyota Prius starts out at a pretty good price as well. $22,175 for the 4-door Sedan Base and $23,070 for the 4-door Sedan Touring.

Overall, I have to say my experience was great.. I would definitely buy a hybrid car someday.. I really want to test-drive the Porsche hybrid so I will try to see if I can find a place in Tucson to do that.

Also, if you come back later tomorrow I should have a slideshow posted so check back!!

For those interested in the 2007 Toyota Prius, here are some websites you can check out:

Toyota Prius review -

Auto Spectator's Prius summary - -